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ANTIQUES AND COLLECTIBLES : Living With the Past : The Home of Antiques Dealer Thomas Beeton Treats Old Treasures With California Style

December 17, 1989|MARY CHESTERFIELD | Mary Chesterfield has taught design at UCLA Extension and writes frequently on interior design .

ONE GLANCE AROUND Thomas Beeton's Doheny Drive apartment dispels the notion that antiques belong most properly in dark and formidable rooms. In this light, high-ceilinged space, the 30-year-old antiques dealer and interior designer has displayed antiques in a comfortable, highly personal style particularly attuned to Southern California.

His eye for quality has earned him an antiques clientele that reaches from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and interiors projects ranging from a Beverly Hills house based on the Napoleon III period to an informal Catalina condominium. "One of the reasons I love working here," he says, "is that people are willing to explore something new and incorporate it into their lives."

Beeton came to California in 1983 to work for Gep Durenberger, the noted San Juan Capistrano antiques dealer. Two years as an interior designer at Lord & Taylor, New York, and a degree in art history from George Washington University prepared him for the training he received under Durenberger's guidance. When Durenberger went into semi-retirement last year, Beeton moved into a 1930s Hollywood version of a Regency-style building in L.A., and opened his antiques shop, Thomas M. Beeton Inc., on La Cienega Boulevard.

Beeton's home underscores the crispness and idiosyncratic taste that mark his style. Antique furniture and eccentric objects with decorated surfaces figure prominently, but a sense of uncluttered space predominates.

Focusing on the space itself was Beeton's first consideration. Along with openness and light, he wanted the surfaces--walls, floors and windows--to convey the outdoor feeling of California living. He started with Swedish sea-grass carpeting that looks like sisal but is soft enough to walk on barefoot. To complement it, he asked specialist painter Elloree Findley to cover the walls with a soft white enamel, overlaid by a brown-toned glaze applied in a basket-weave pattern. By leaving the windows in the 11-foot-high living room untreated, he dramatized the beauty of a wall of French doors and windows that open onto a balcony.

Still, something felt incomplete. Drawing upon memories of how he was showered with gold flakes flying from the ceiling of the Philadelphia Musical Academy whenever crescendos boomed during concerts, Beeton decided upon a gilded cornice, underpainted in reddish Chinese bole.

In his living room, a sense of always having been there pervades. A console with swagged drapery made of sheeting dipped in plaster holds such disparate 19th-Century objects as an English stone representation of Spring, one of a series on the Four Seasons, and a gilded Spanish Colonial candlestick. One of Beeton's favorite possessions--a 19th-Century decalcomaniavase--adorns a center table draped with a chintz crazy quilt. "This is what I would run out of the building with in case of fire," he says.

Among the more unusual objects in the room is a 1930s console with a gilded "shell" base, which Beeton juxtaposed with a French Victorian toile screen, and a Ch'ien Lung covered vase he found at the nearby Evans & Gerst antiques shop. Striped linen-and-cotton upholstery unifies the eclectic seating, which includes an American cherry daybed, circa 1825, and painted and gilded Italian chairs in the style of Louis XV from the 1920s.

The presence of beloved possessions leaves Beeton with no sense of proprietorship. "I don't think of myself as collecting furniture," he says. "It's more like being a curator in that I'm just taking care of what I have. Someone else is going to live with them someday."

At his shop, he notices that people are asking for more formal, impressive furnishings. "A more traditional, conservative approach is beginning to surface," he says. "The wonderful thing about living in the 20th Century is that we can choose from all the centuries that came before and live with the best parts of them."

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